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Ontario Municipal Board rejects severing grain elevator property

City argued that smaller footprint would limit future use

THUNDER BAY -- The City of Thunder Bay has won a decision at the Ontario Municipal Board supporting its contention that splitting a waterfront industrial property does not constitute good planning.

The issue involved the fate of the site of a non-operating grain elevator at 569 Maureen Street.

The city's Committee of Adjustment had conditionally approved a severance application for the 4.26-hectare parcel of heavy industrial land.

If the application had gone through, a new 1.38-hectare parcel would have been created to accommodate the consolidation of a snow removal business and the outside storage of related heavy equipment.

The city appealed the committee's decision as being contrary to the Thunder Bay Official Plan.

Its appeal maintained that "the severance will restrict the future development of the retained lands by creating a parcel that will have limited access and will compromise its intended use, which does not represent good planning."

The city felt that severance would leave the remaining parcel with no lay-down area to accommodate loading or off-loading of cargo onto a lake boat.

Evidence was given to the OMB by the most recent owner of "considerable efforts since acquiring the site in 2012 to secure alternate users, including the adaptive reuse of the elevators."

However, the board noted that despite expressions of interested in the property, the use of the parcel that would be retained after severance remains undetermined.

A city planning official provided evidence that the severance would limit and possibly jeopardize any repurposing of the elevator, and might create a parcel potentially incapable of accommodating its demolition.

Thunder Bay's director of planning, Leslie McEachern, told that the crux of the issue was "really about preserving the opportunity to use that piece of property for its highest and best use, which would be related to port activity and port functions."

McEachern said there have been previous similar severance applications regarding abandoned waterfront sites, but the city has opposed them, and the Committee of Adjustment has sided with the city in these cases.

"What we've established through this process," she said, "is that there is value in keeping these parcels intact, and preserving their opportunity for port functions...and the best way to do that is keeping them as large parcels." 

Following the filing of the city's appeal, the entrepreneur who originally tried to buy the 1.38 hectare portion purchased the entire property, and currently stores his equipment there.

This is a permitted use under the zoning regulations.